Ask women about civil servants

'Some women continue to be abused and dehumanised when they report the abuse to the police and the court. They are treated with contempt and the severity of their case is belittled,' says the writer (John McCann)

'Some women continue to be abused and dehumanised when they report the abuse to the police and the court. They are treated with contempt and the severity of their case is belittled,' says the writer (John McCann)

BODY LANGUAGE

In President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address he said that “no nation can be free until its women are free”.

South African women will not be free as long as society remains a patriarchal one — another point the new president made in his response to the debate on his State of the Nation address.

Ramaphosa correctly referred to how public servants have failed South Africans with “poor service or no service at all”.

I believe this poor service by public servants can result in the death of abused women and their children.

There is public outcry when it is reported in the media that a woman has been murdered by a partner or family member. But what is rarely heard of is the long journey that women must go through to get protection from their abusers.

Death is usually the end result of months and even years of abuse.

How many of these abused women approached the police and the various court officials for support before they were killed?

The 224 930 warrants of arrest that were issued in the past two years are proof that many people are not silent about abuse.

Some women continue to be abused and dehumanised when they report the abuse to the police and the court. They are treated with contempt and the severity of their case is belittled.

These women are left to feel that there is no way out of abusive relationships; that they must stay under the control of the abusers to survive financially, despite laws such as the Domestic Violence Act and the Maintenance Act of 1998 that includes provision for financial support to help women to escape these situations.

Many women are ignorant about the laws that could help them to escape from an abusive relationship in which they are financially dependent.

Legal officials and the police should be helping these women but many do not.

In this context, it makes sense why only 1 624 arrests were made from the 224 930 warrants of arrest issued in the past two years.

Public servants work for the people and their employment is subject to a public in need, ultimately making the public their employer.
Ramaphosa advised that public servants must “undertake their responsibilities with efficiency, diligence and integrity … do things correctly … completely, timeously, [and] to become agents for change”.

His proposed solution to tackle the malpractice by public servants is to visit every department to meet with the senior leadership “to ensure that the state, in its entirety, responds to the pressing needs of [South Africans]”.

Government departments will tidy up their operations in anticipation of the president’s coming and ensure everything is squeaky clean for the duration of his visit. They will seemingly collaborate with him and co-operate with his suggestions, at least until his departure from their premises — similarly to how they act when the media is in their immediate environment.

If Ramaphosa seeks the truth, he needs to go to the people the government officials are supposed to serve, particularly those most in need — the poor and the marginalised. These South Africans have nothing to gain from obscuring the truth because the truth can benefit them.

Officials who do not do their job properly are not pointed out because the poor and marginalised have lost faith in public servants — and because they are ignored.

Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in the United States, said: “Get proximate. We need to get proximate to the people we are serving. We cannot be effective leaders from a distance.

“When you get close to the problem and get close to the people who are suffering, you understand the nuances. But the problem is that most of us have been taught to stay far away from the bad parts of town.”

I urge Ramaphosa to go the people. Open a public platform for these officials to be exposed by the public while assuring no prejudice to the people who expose them.

I believe this is the only way to afford all South Africans their basic human rights and dignity, especially women, who continue to experience an unequal, marginalised existence.

Jennilee Peremore is a communications consultant

Jennilee Peremore

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